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Full text of "The Usonian house : souvenir of the exhibition, 60 years of living architecture, the work of Frank Lloyd Wright"

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U S O N I A N 






To soy the house planted by myself on the good earth of the Chicago 
prairie as early as 1900, or earlier, was the first truly democratic 
expression of our democracy in Architecture would start a con- 
troversy with professional addicts who believe Architecture has no 
political (therefore no social) significance. So, let's say that the 
spirit of democracy — freedom of the individual as an individual — 
took hold of the house as it then was, took off the attic and the 
porch, pulled out the basement, and made a single spacious, harmo- 
nious unit of living room, dining room and kitchen, with appropriate 
entry conveniences. The sleeping rooms were convenient to baths 
approached in a segregated, separate extended wing and the whole 
place was flooded with sunlight from floor to ceiling with glass. 

The materials of the outside walls came inside just as appro- 
priately and freely as those of the inside walls went outside. Intimate 
harmony was thus established not only in the house but with its site. 
Came the "Open Plan". The housewife herself thus planned for 
became the central figure in her menage and her housewifery a 
more charming feature (according to her ability) of her domestic 

She was now more hostess "officio", operating in gracious 
relation to her own home, instead of being a kitchen-mechanic behind 
closed doors. 

Nobody need care now how this thing happened. It may not 
be important. But if not — what is? 

In addition to this new freedom with its implication of fresh 

responsibility for the individual homester came a technical recogni- 
tion of the new materials and means by which the house was to be 
built. Materials were now so used as to bring out their natural beauty 
of character. The construction was made suitable to the appropriate 
use of machinery — because the machine had already become the 
appropriate tool of our civilization. (See essays written by myself 
at that time.) 

To use our new materials — concrete, steel and glass, and the 
old ones — stone and wood — in ways thai were not only expedient 
but beautiful was Culture now. So many new forms of treating them 
were devised out of the working of a new principle of building. 
I called it "organic". 

Moreover, the house itself was so proportioned that people 
looked well in it as a part of them and their friends looked better 
in it than when they were outside it. 

Thus a basic change came about in this affair of a culture for the 
civilization of these United States. What then took place has since 
floundered, flourished and faded under different names by different 
architects in an endless procession of expedients. 

Here the original comes back to say hello to you afresh and to 
see if you recognize it for what it was and still is — a home for our 
people in the spirit in which our Democracy was conceived: the 
individual integrate and free in an environment of his own, appro- 
priate to his circumstances — a life beautiful as he can make it — 
with her, of course. 

New York, November 12, 1953 

Phoios P. E Gue're' 

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In this 1,700 sq. ft. exhibition house lie Frank Lloyd Wright's suggestions to the average American who 
builds or buys a home — suggestions first made in 1900 when his houses embodying the same principles 
first appeared on the prairie outside Chicago. Here for the first time in the Architecture of the West 
the human scale in building proportion appeared with the open plan. This two-bedroom "Usonian" house 
has a simple in-line plan and is within the reach of many. Thousands of New Yorkers who walked 
through it experienced for the first time the design qualities Wright has talked about since the turn of 
the century: spaciousness and sunlight, human scale, warmth and solidity, a feeling of shelter, and a 
sense of the outdoors. 

This house and the pavilion alongside it also represent a long-awaited tribute: the first Wright building 
erected in New York City. Part of a comprehensive exhibit of his 60 years of work, it was built next to 
the pavilion housing his drawings, models and photographs on the site of Wright's Solomon R. 
Guggenheim Museum to be built when exhibit is removed. 


Low, closed side of living room unit, as seen from 
kitchen, has built-in seat with storage in a deep, 
sheltering cove that extends across the entire liv- 
ing room facing the fireplace. Clerestory windows 
are toward the street and the neighbors, assuring 
natural light on all sides of the room whatever the 
orientation — and affording privacy. Brick wall at 
far end is pierced in natural block pattern. 

High, open side of living room, seen from entry, 
faces living terrace and view (walled in only be- 
cause of New York City limitations). All furniture 
is by Wright or influenced by him including the 
specially designed spherical black kettle. In charge 
of construction: David Henken of Henken Builds, 
Inc., a former Wright apprentice, assisted by 14 
boys of the Taliesin Fellowship. Wright estimates 
this house could be duplicated in the New York 
area for about $35,000. Originally it was about 
a $15,000 house — fifteen years ago. 

Pholos Ezro Sioller 






■_.. I 

View from terrace looking into living room. Tall 
glass doors extend to full height of 12' ceiling, 
throwing the big living room wide open to its ter- 
race on occasion. Roof overhang is richly pat- 
terned with rhythmic openings and the ornamental 
dentil bands characteristic of the whole structure; 
a place for vines overhead. 

Sunlight and a sense of deep space play freely 
through the 26'x32' living-dining area, giving it 
a sense of great repose and comfort. Interior is 
warm in color and alive with deep red texture of 
brick, a checkerboard ceiling of red oak plywood, 
twinkling accents of light in brass spotlight plates, 
repeated in the piano hinges, on tall windows, 
and doors, copper fillets on shelves and tables. 
Folding screen makes kitchen an admirable part 
of the whole living room unit. 

Photos Ezra S'olltr 

Toll central kitchen, itself planned as a ventilating feature of the 
entire living room unit, around a table for assembling of meals, 
has a tall view window at left and a skylight above — with built-in 
ovens, cabinets and sideboard accommodations. 

A glimpse of the long gallery leading from entry to living room and 
bedrooms as 34 feet of storage wall alongside wall, a laundry alcove 
opposite. Hall lavatory-toilet is convenient to entrance and to living 
room (foreground). 

3'0 El'O S»ol'»r 

At the end of this segregation of the bedrooms is the master bedroom, 
secure and intimate with its rich wood finishes, dramatic spotlighting, 
high windows filtering sunlight through patterned shutters, belonging 
to the style of the whole. 

Taliesin team: apprentices on construction of 
pavilion and Usonian House: 

John de Koven Hill, Curtis Besinger, Kenn Lock- 
hart, John Geiger, Robin Molny, Kelly Oliver, 
Edmund Thomas Casey, Morton Delson, John 
Rattenbury, Edward Thurman, James Pfefferkorn, 
George Thompson, Herbert De Levie, David 

A special thank you for able and timely assist- 
ance is due to Clay Irons of Irons and Reynolds 
— and to Hicks Nursery of Long Island. 

A special compliment is due the splendid co- 
operation of Director James Johnson Sweeney 
of the Museum and more, well earned by his 
bouauet of girl assista nts l ed by Donna Butler. 
Last, but not least, comes our genial host, Harry 
Guggenheim, Chairman of the Board of the 
Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. 

FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT November, 1953 

N. B. I want to say that the police in charge of 
the affair are gentlemen in the best sense of 
the word. Their cooperation has been perfect. 

NOTE: This mock-up at the Museum represents 
a house costing, at this time, say about thirty 
to thirty-five thousand dollars, according to 
location. Originally the cost was about fifteen 
thousand. Times have changed. 

The suggestion has been made that, after the 
exhibition, we sell the house at auction to be 
removed to any other site and permanently 
reestablished. This may be done. F. LL. W. 

Photos: P. E Guerrero